Niuafoʻou (meaning many new coconuts) is the northernmost island in the kingdom of Tonga. It is a volcanic rim island with an area of 15 km2 (5.8 sq mi) and a population of 493 (as of 2016). The Niuafoʻou language is spoken on the island.
|Elevation||260 m (850 ft)|
|Mountain type||Shield volcano|
|Last eruption||March 1985|
Other names for the island are Good Hope island and Tin Can island. It got the name “tin can” from its unusual method for sending and receiving mail from abroad. Because it has no wharf or natural harbour, ships couldn’t land to pick up or deliver mail. So, instead, people who were strong swimmers would swim out to passing ships to retrieve packages, which the sailors would "seal up in a biscuit tin" to keep them dry, and throw overboard.
This method, called Tin Can Mail, was developed by a trader named Charles Ramsey in the nineteenth century, and later commercialised by a competitor, Walter George Quensell, who festooned the mail with many colourful cachets that today have become collectors' items. In 1983, the Tongan government took over this practice, using special Niuafoʻou stamps.
Niuafoʻou is a volcano located on an underwater ridge 190 kilometres (120 mi) west of the line along which all the other volcanoes of Tonga are ranged. The island contains a steep-sided caldera; its rim is over 120 metres (390 ft) high. It rises to a height of 250 metres (820 ft) at Mokotu. The coastline is rocky and steep, with only a few beaches, all of which are stony, with black sand. The only landing place on the island is at the end of a lava flow in Futu, which is in the western part of the island. All the villages are in the north and east. Public places—like the post office, telecommunications station and airport (Niuatoputapu Airport)—are in Angahā in the north; there’s a high school in Muʻa.
The island ring encloses two lakes. The larger one, Vai Lahi, is a crater lake 23 m (75 ft) above sea level, four km (2.5 mi) wide, and 84 m (276 ft) deep. It contains three islands and a submerged island that appears when the water level drops. Vai Lahi is separated from the smaller lake, Vai Siʻi (or Vai Mataʻaho), by a desolate landscape of sand hills. The inner walls of the crater lake, and the island's eastern and western slopes, are forested.
Niuafoʻou has been an active volcano for thousands of years. In 1853, an eruption destroyed the village of ʻAhau and killed 25 people. In 1912, and again in 1929, eruptions triggered lava flows that destroyed the village of Futu, cut off the harbor, and killed all the vegetation on the western slopes of the island. Eruptions also occurred in 1935, 1936, 1943, and 1946. The 1946 eruption was a particularly violent one. As a result, in December 1946, Niuafoʻou's inhabitants had to be evacuated and resettled on the island of ʻEua, and they only began returning to Niuafoʻou in 1958. When they resettled, they named various places in ʻEua after the places they’d known in Niuafoʻou. As a result, the two islands now have many of the same place names, and a comparison of names on the two islands shows where each group of settled. (See list of cities in Tonga.)
According to Niuafoʻou folklore, Niuafoʻou island originally had a mountain, rather than a lake in the middle. But the mountain was stolen one night and placed in the sea, and became the island of Tafahi.
Niuafoʻou was put on the European maps by Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire during their famous circumnavigation of the globe in 1616. After their not so successful encounter with the islanders of Niuatoputapu, they approached this island with some more hope to find refreshment, so they called it Goede Hoop island. They found black cliffs that were green on top, plenty of coconut trees, some houses along the seaside, and a whole village near a landing place. But their ship, the Eendracht (Unity), could not anchor, so they had to limit themselves with some trade with the Indians who approached their ship in their swift canoes. The trading went well, until the islanders tried to steal one of the ship’s small sounding boats, and the Dutch responded by firing on them. After this incident, the Dutch left the vicinity of Niuatoputapu and continued to sailed west as they had planned. But they ended up veering northwards, and so happened upon Futuna and Alofi.
Niuafoʻou was visited by a Royal Navy surveying ship, HMS Penguin in August 1895. Liutenant Boyle Somerville published a description of the island the following year. He noted signs of recent volcanic activity, writing "[the island] is thickly coverd with vegetation throughout, with the exception of one place on the south-west of the island, where a lava stream, recently formed, has not yet received its coating of green".
Between 1946 and 1947, the island was completely evacuated by the Tongan government following a volcanic eruption. In 1958, about half of the population returned to Niuafo'ou, and the rest remained in 'Eua.
In January 2002, the island was devastated by Cyclone Waka, which destroyed hundreds of homes and killed one person.
- Taylor, Paul W. (1995). "Myths, legends and volcanic activity: an example from northern Tonga". Journal of the Polynesian Society. 104 (3): 323–346.
- Somerville, Boyle T (1896). "Account of a Visit to Niuafou, South Pacific". The Geographical Journal. 7 (1): 65–71. doi:10.2307/1773680. JSTOR 1773680.
- Rogers, G. (1981). "The evacuation of Niuafo'ou, an outlier in the kingdom of Tonga". Journal of Pacific History. 16 (3): 149–163. doi:10.1080/00223348108572421.
- "Niuafo'ou". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution.
- Douglas, Norman and Ngaire. Niuafoʻou & Niuatoputapu:Tonga a Guide Retrieved July 29, 2005.
- Kerr, Robert (1824) Voyage round the world, in 1615-1617, by William Cornelison Schouten and Jacques le Maire, going round Cape Horn. Beware that the notes added by the editor are often incorrect.
- Stanley, D. South Pacific Handbook
- Ramsay, Charles Stuart, and Plumb, Charles P. (1939) Tin Can Island: A Story of Tonga and the Swimming Mail Man of the South Seas, London: Hurst & Blackett.